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“Big Yellow Duck” is a nickname given to a series of giant floating rubber duck sculptures designed by Dutch artist Florentijin Hofman. In June 2013, the phrase was banned by Chinese censors after an image of several giant rubber ducks photoshopped into the famous “Tank Man” photograph began circulating online in remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
On May 2nd, 2013, one of Hofman’s 54-foot high yellow inflatable ducks was launched in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor (shown below, left). On May 15th, the sculpture mysteriously deflated (shown below, right), which resulted in the hashtag “#bigyellowduck” rising to the top searched keyword on the Chinese microblogging and social networking site Weibo.
Sina Weibo user Weiblog subsequently posted a photoshopped version of the 1989 photograph “Tank Man” (shown below, left) from the Tiananmen Square protests, in which the tanks were replaced with the large duck sculptures (shown below, right). Leading up to the anniversary of the protests on June 4th, several words were censored on Sina Weibo, including “1989,” “In today,” “anniversary” and “big yellow duck."
On June 3rd, 2013, United States Foreign Service Officer Richard Buangan tweeted Weiblog’s Tank Man photo with the description “Chinese netizens 1, Chinese censors 0.”
The same day, the viral content site BuzzFeed published a post titled “Chinese Netizens Defiantly Remember Tiananmen Square,” featuring several images circulating on Chinese social media in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square protest. Among the images featured in the post were a remake of the Tank Man photograph made entirely of LEGO bricks (shown below).
On June 4th, The Huffington Post published an article reporting that Chinese bloggers were using memes to bypass the censorship of tributes to the Tiananmen Square protests, which cited Weiblog’s duck picture and a photograph of a cow standing in front of a line of tractors (shown below, left) as examples. The article also noted that after a vigil candle emoticon used to mourn those who died in the protests was removed from Weibo, users created an emoticon of a Type-64 pistol commonly associated with Chinese military officials (shown below, right).
Throughout the day, several English-language news sites reported on the censorship of Weibo, including The New York Times IHT Rendezous blog, The Daily Mail, Slate, Business Insider and The Wall Street Journal. On June 5th, Redditor Highway2Hell submitted Weiblog’s rubber duck image to the /r/picssubreddit, receiving over 11,800 up votes and 400 comments in the first six hours. In the comments section, Redditor Synthur replied with an edited version of photographer Stuart Franklin’s wider shot of the Tank Man encounter, which replaced the tanks with giant rubber ducks (shown below).
The Huffington Post – Tiananmen Square 24th Anniversary Bloggers Use Memes to Get Past Web Blackout
The Daily Mail – China bans all internet searches for big yellow duck